Originally known as the Palazzo dei Priori and later
as the Palazzo della Signoria and Palazzo Ducale, the
13th-century Palazzo Vecchio was built to house the Priori, the leaders of the
guilds, following the establishment of the popular government in 1283.
The site was probably chosen because of its proximity to their
previous meeting-place, the church of S Piero.
Palazzo Vecchio History
The new palace was an architectural statement of the new political
order that followed the resolution of the fierce fighting between the Guelph and Ghibelline
factions in the city.
Construction involved the demolition of a number of buildings formerly
belonging to such families of the defeated Ghibelline faction as the Uberti and the Foraboschi,
and the subsequent trapezoidal plan of the palace and its skewed façade largely resulted from
the piecemeal acquisition of the building site.
As the foundations were being laid in 1299, further houses in the
vicinity were acquired and demolished in order to create a great piazza to the north that would
balance the open space on the west resulting from the levelling of the Uberti
This occasional balancing of spaces continued throughout the first
half of the 14th century, and as late as 1349 the decision was taken to demolish the church of
S Romolo to the west of the palace in order to improve the square.
The bell-tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, which was
considerably higher than the original Foraboschi tower on the same site, was a powerful symbol
of the new government; it tolled warnings in times of unrest or danger and called citizens
together to discuss matters of communal interest.
The palace was originally free-standing and extended only five bays
along its northern flank, which was then the main front. It has been traditionally argued,
although there is no precise documentation, that it was designed in the main by Arnolfo di
Construction was rapid, and the Priori were already installed in 1302,
but such haste possibly contributed to later structural problems. During the first half of the
14th century further property to the east was acquired so that the fabric could be expanded
along the north front.
These later developments are clearly visible in the variety of levels
and openings on the north side, although some effort was made to achieve consistency through
the use of string courses and a common window-line.
The original walls were divided by narrow cornices into three
horizontal sections of diminishing height. The robust, rusticated ashlar walls, constructed of
blocks of stone quarried from the local Boboli hillside, were pierced by elegant Gothic windows
with cusped double openings.
The Palazzo Vecchio set the pattern for
Central Italian civic architecture during the 14th century. Its battlemented
upper profile, with deeply recessed supporting brackets decorated with the coats of arms of the
Florentine comune, was typical of the fortification of secular buildings from the time of the
Warring factions within the early comuni often made it necessary for
members of government to install themselves behind battlements and sturdy walls, with internal
council chambers safely raised above the level of surrounding streets and squares. The
Loggia dei Lanzi opposite the palace, erected during the late 14th century and
originally known as the Loggia dei Priori or Loggia della
Signoria, was used for public government ceremonies.
Government officials often congregated on the raised platform
(aringhiera) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio to hear public proclamations
declaimed from the loggia. This structure therefore served as an open-air adjunct to the main
The palace subsequently underwent many changes, both internally and
externally. In the 15th century, when it was known as the Palazzo della
Signoria, Michelozzo was charged with shoring up the internal courtyard and fortifying
the tower, both of which were in danger of imminent collapse; the present courtyard is very
different from the 13th-century original, where thick columns with bases and capitals in pietra
serena lined each side.
Michelozzo also carried out extensive alterations to
many of the external windows and a number of the internal rooms. Some parts nevertheless remain
in their earlier form, notably the ground-floor Sala d’Arme, with groin vaults supported by
octagonal pilasters. In 1495, after the expulsion of the Medici, an enormous hall was
built by Cronaca for meetings of the new legislative body (Consiglio Maggiore) until its
dissolution in 1530.
Between 1540 and 1550 the palace was used as the official residence of
Cosimo I de’ Medici and was called the Palazzo Ducale. The building became
known as the Palazzo Vecchio only after Cosimo transferred his principal place of residence to
the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the River Arno in 1550.
Thereafter the Palazzo Vecchio was used only for government business.
A particularly grandiose and ornate internal reconstruction was
carried out under the direction of Vasari in 1555–1572.
Vasari decorated the courtyard in which Michelozzo
had worked, designed and built the nearby great staircase rising to the Salone del
Cinquecento, and planned an elaborate series of decorative schemes for the
palace. The internal rooms reflect the individual tastes of various members of the
Medici family: for example the studiolo of Cosimo’s son Francesco I celebrates his interest in
alchemy and the natural sciences.
Some of the schemes celebrate the triumphs of war and peace, the most
splendid being in the Salone del Cinquecento, for which Vasari and his many collaborators
painted 39 panels celebrating the power and glory of the Medici.
Thus, although it was conceived as a monument to a democratic
government, the Palazzo Vecchio now bears witness to the power of Florence’s
best-known rulers, the Medici.
Palazzo Vecchio Map&Location
Palazzo Vecchio Address: Piazza della Signoria, 50122 Firenze, Italy. Get
help with directions using the map provided bellow:
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